Councilman wants to revisit hardwood for Ocean City Boardwalk

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OCEAN CITY – First Ward City Councilman Mike DeVlieger said he does not want to delay the next phase of Ocean City’s ongoing redecking of the boardwalk, set to take place next winter, but he thinks it’s foolish not to consider hardwood for the ’walk.

At the Thursday, May 22 City Council meeting, he voted along with the other six members of council to introduce an ordinance appropriating $1.9 million for the work, but he said he wants to also find out how much the project would cost if tropical hardwood were used before that ordinance comes up for public hearing and a final vote.

Hardwood would almost certainly be more expensive, but he argued that it lasts far, far longer than the pine used on much of the boardwalk.

That seems clear from the two sections of the boardwalk in which tropical hardwood was used for the decking, which has been in place for decades and seems in far better shape than the much newer pine used elsewhere on the boardwalk.

But the use of the wood is also a fraught subject in Ocean City, and has been the subject of numerous protests from environmentalists who say logging for the wood is contributing to devastating deforestation in South America and elsewhere. Opponents of the use of hardwood have several times rallied against using it on the boardwalk. Despite the long life of the wood, they argue, it’s irresponsible to use it because of the potential impact on the rainforest, the people who live there, and on the global environment.  

In comments on Thursday night, DeVleiger acknowledged that the proposal will be unpopular in some quarters, but said that should not stop Ocean City from considering the wood.

“I think in the long run, it’s a much better buy,” he said. “I just think it’s foolish of us not to look at the big picture.”

Mike Dattilo, the city’s business manager, said the use of the wood has been a long and sometimes painful debate already. Revisiting the matter would likely delay the next phase of the work, and the city has already begun planning for the next phase.

“This amount gets it done in pine. It does not get it done in hardwood,” Dattilo said.       

Other members of council seemed sympathetic to the idea, but not the timing. Councilman Keith Hartzell, who recently won reelection, pointed out that the city already owns the material for the next phase of the project, part of a settlement from another boardwalk project.

“We still have pine material,” he said. “That’s free. We have to use it.”

The wood was part of a near million-dollar settlement with Louis J. Grasmick Lumber Company of Baltimore from February, 2009, after the lumber company missed the deadline on a $1.2 million order for tropical wood placed in 2007.  According to reports from the time, the city paid $100,000 in damages, $325,000 for the hardwood, and $573,000 for yellow pine.

At the Thursday meeting, Mayor Jay Gillian said the city has high hopes for the pine used in the most recent project, and planned for use in the next phase. He said the boards are thicker than those used in other areas, and of shorter length, and are screwed in place.

DeVlieger remained unconvinced, and suggested the pine could not match the longevity or the aesthetics of hardwood.

He said he wants no delay in the next phase, but was steadfast that the hardwood looks better after 30 years on the boardwalk than pine does after two years.

Councilman Scott Ping suggested this may be a good time to start to revisit the use of hardwood, but for the phase after next, expected in the off season of 2015-16.

At the start of the meeting, resident Roy Wagner, a former member of council, questioned why the city did not include a test area for a recycled plastic material in the latest project.

Dattilo responded that the city had done tests, and would remain interested in such a product, but he said what has been available so far would not meet the city’s needs on the boardwalk. 

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